The list price of Starlink communications devices has nearly doubled in Ukraine as cellular networks began to fail amid Russia’s attack on the country’s power grid and increased demand for the SpaceX-made satellite communications device.
Starlink terminals, made by SpaceX owned by Elon Musk, will jump to $700 for new Ukrainian consumers, according to the company’s website. That represents an increase from about $385 earlier this year, according to screenshots of previous price data shared by users in the country.
The consumer cost of Starlink’s monthly subscription has fluctuated recently, falling from around $100 to $60 on Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24 to “reflect local market conditions” and will now rise to $75.
Prices have also risen in neighboring Poland, where many Ukrainians are subscribed to Starlink to avoid problems with domestic mail delivery, but have remained the same in Slovakia and most other European countries.
Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The small handheld devices, which connect to satellites via a book-sized antenna, have provided a crucial Internet connection for Ukraine’s military and civilian population in areas with little or no cellular network or broadband coverage.
It’s unclear if pricing has also changed for the Ukrainian government, which uses a mix of Starlink from various donors, including Musk’s SpaceX, the Polish government and NATO allies, and crowdsourcing backers.
In separate, ongoing negotiations between SpaceX and the US Department of Defense, as recently as October, SpaceX had asked Washington to pay $4,500 a month for each terminal destined for Ukraine, a person familiar with the situation said. A Pentagon spokesman said the department had been in touch with SpaceX through Starlink, but declined to detail the discussions. He said the US and Ukraine have identified satellite communications as a crucial battlefield capability.
Musk turned on connectivity for the satellite-based service in Ukraine days after Russia launched its full-blown invasion on February 24 and responded on twitter at the request of a Ukrainian minister.
Since then, the Ukrainian military has used Starlink extensively on the front lines, where months of fighting have rendered cellular networks unreliable, using massive amounts of high-speed data to communicate with each other and their bases, and to transmit high-resolution drone imagery.
The Ukrainian government plans to buy thousands of new Starlinks, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Tuesday, and will make their imports tax and duty free.
Civilians in areas freed from Russian control also frequently rely on Starlink as Ukrainian cellphone operators restore services.
In recent weeks, however, cellphone networks have also faltered in major cities like Kyiv as Russia has attempted to shut down Ukraine’s power distribution system.
Musk has previously complained that the cost for SpaceX to provide Starlink services to Ukraine by the end of 2022 could be as high as $100 million, after the Financial Times reported that Ukraine’s military had begun operating in October faced problems after finding that the devices were not working in areas recently liberated from Russian control.
SpaceX had also asked the US government to cover the cost of providing the service to the Ukrainian government and military, which could total $400 million over 12 months, CNN reported in October. It is unclear what additional costs Musk is referring to, as many users pay SpaceX directly to purchase the devices and a monthly subscription fee.
Dimko Zhluktenko, a software developer who runs a charity to source equipment for soldiers, said he’s bought as many as 200 Starlinks to send to the front lines in the past, averaging about $500 for the price each terminal, a deposit and the first equals monthly subscription fee.
But his most recent fundraiser, in which he raised $50,000 to buy 100 more, was derailed by the price hike.
“This really only affects civilians right now – as a Ukrainian doing it for the military, I will pay whatever amount is needed,” Zhluktenko said. He said he uses a Starlink because 4G went down in his neighborhood in Kyiv on Tuesday afternoon.
Demand for Starlink has surged in recent weeks, local retailers said, as a small gray market emerged with people paying up to $1,125 to have the devices delivered immediately rather than waiting to get them from Poland or on SpaceX to make the delivery.